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Zambia, republic in south central Africa, bounded on the north by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) and Tanzania; on the east by Malawi; on the southeast by Mozambique; on the south by Zimbabwe, Botswana, and the Caprivi Strip of Namibia; and on the west by Angola. The area is 752,614 sq km (290,586 sq mi). Zambia’s capital and largest city is Lusaka.

Land and Resources

Most of Zambia is high plateau with a flat or gently undulating terrain. Elevations average between about 1100 and 1400 m (about 3500 and 4500 ft). Mountains in the northeast reach 2164 m (7100 ft). Major rivers are the Zambezi in the west and south and its tributaries, the Kafue in the west and the Luangwa in the east; and the Luapula and Chambeshi, in the north. Lake Bangweulu, in the north, is surrounded by a vast swampy region. Lake Kariba is a large reservoir formed by Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River.


Although lying within the Tropic Zone, much of Zambia enjoys a pleasant subtropical climate because of the high altitude. The average temperature in Lusaka during July, the coldest month of the year, is 16° C (61° F); the hottest month, January, has an average temperature of 21° C (70° F). Annual rainfall ranges from 750 mm (30 in) in the south to 1300 mm (51 in) in the north. Nearly all of the rain falls between November and April.

Natural Resources

Most of the country has savanna-type vegetation-grasslands interspersed with trees. Teak forests are in the southwest. Animals include elephants, lions, rhinoceroses, and several varieties of antelope. Of overwhelming importance are the rich mineral veins of the country’s copper belt. The belt extends down into Zambia from southern DRC and contains major deposits of copper, cobalt, and other minerals. Zambia also has substantial hydroelectric potential. The Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River is the country’s main power source. Zambia shares the Kariba system with Zimbabwe. Other stations on the Lunsemfwa and Mulungushi rivers serve Kabwe. Installations have also been built on the Kafue River. In the early 1990s the total installed electricity-generating capacity was about 2.8 million kilowatts. The yearly output was some 12 billion kilowatt-hours, nearly all of which was produced by hydroelectric plants.


Zambia’s population, predominantly rural, is made up of more than 70 Bantu-speaking ethnic groups. Most groups are small; the largest are the Bemba, Nyanja, and Tonga peoples.

Population Characteristics

The population of Zambia at the time of the 1990 census was 7,818,447. The 1995 estimate was 9,381,000, giving the country an overall population density of 12 persons per sq km (32 per sq mi); much of the northeast and west is sparsely inhabited.

Political Divisions and Principal Cities

Zambia is divided into nine provinces, each governed by a minister appointed by the president. Lusaka, the capital, had a population (1990) of 982,362. Other major centers are Ndola (376,311), Kitwe (338,207), Mufulira (152,944), and Luanshya (146,275), all in the copper belt.

Religion and Language

About 72 percent of the people of Zambia are Christian; many of them adhere to independent churches which combine elements of Christianity and African religions. Most of the remainder follow traditional religions. More than 70 African languages are spoken, including Bemba, Lozi, Luvale, Tonga, and Nyanja. The official language is English.


School attendance has increased substantially since Zambia’s independence in 1964. In the early 1990s about 1.5 million pupils were enrolled in primary schools. In the late 1980s about 161,300 pupils were enrolled in secondary schools; vocational and teacher-training schools had 8000 pupils; and the University of Zambia (founded in 1965), at Lusaka, had about 7400 students. The Livingstone Museum, at Livingstone, has a collection relating to the archaeology and natural history of southern Africa. The Institute for African Studies of the University of Zambia publishes studies relating to central Africa.


The wealth of Zambia is based largely on mining in the rich copper belt, and downturns in copper prices have severely damaging economic consequences. Some processing and manufacturing has been started since independence, and during the 1970s attempts were made to diversify agriculture and to make the country self-sufficient in food. In the early 1990s the estimated annual national budget showed about $665 million in revenue and $767 million in expenditure.


In the early 1990s about 2.8 million Zambians participated in the labor force. The principal labor organization is the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, which has about 400,000 members. Civil servants and miners also have unions.


More than two-thirds of Zambia’s working population is engaged in agriculture, largely subsistence farming. Principal crops in the early 1990s (with annual output in metric tons) included corn, the staple food, 464,000; sugarcane, 1.2 million; and cassava, 270,000. Sunflower seeds, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and tobacco are also grown. Beef and dairy cattle are raised for domestic use. The agricultural sector remains underdeveloped and vulnerable to weather fluctuations, and food shortages have occurred.


The copper mines of Zambia are among the richest in the world. Although world copper prices collapsed in 1975, damaging the Zambian economy, in the early 1990s the country still received 93 percent of its export earnings from copper. Annual output averaged 621,600 metric tons. Other minerals extracted were zinc (10,900 metric tons), cobalt (7100), and lead (4100). A diamond field was discovered in 1992.


In the early 1990s manufacturing employed less than one-sixth of the labor force, but accounted for more than one-third of the gross domestic product (GDP). Principal activities were the smelting and refining of copper and other metals, vehicle assembly, petroleum refining, food processing, and the production of fertilizers, explosives, and textiles.

Currency and Banking

The decimal system of currency, issued in 1968, is based on the kwacha, consisting of 100 ngwee (663.80 kwachas equal U.S.$1; 1994). The country’s central bank is the Bank of Zambia (1964); commercial, development, and foreign banks are widely represented.

Foreign Trade

Imports-such as machinery and transport equipment, mineral fuels and lubricants, chemicals, food, and basic manufactured goods-totaled about $1.2 billion annually in the early 1990s. Exports-chiefly copper, cobalt, and zinc-totaled about $1 billion. Principal partners for exports are Japan, France, Thailand, India, Belgium and Luxembourg (which constitute a single trading entity), and Saudi Arabia; principal partners for imports are members of the South African Customs Union (Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa), Great Britain, Germany, and the United States.

Transportation and Communications

Zambia has about 2164 km (about 1345 mi) of railroads. A railroad from Zimbabwe runs to Livingstone, Lusaka, and Ndola, connecting with the DRC system, and then to Benguela on the Atlantic coast of Angola. The Tanzania-Zambia Railroad (Tazara) connects Lusaka with the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. About 13,500 km (about 8400 mi) of all-weather roads connect the main towns of Zambia. Lusaka is served by an international airport. The government operates radio and television stations at Lusaka and Kitwe. In the early 1990s about 680,000 radios and 217,000 television sets were in use.


Zambia is a republic with a president elected to a maximum of two five-year terms by direct universal suffrage. The president appoints a cabinet, which is headed by a prime minister. Zambia’s legislative body, the National Assembly, has 150 elected members. The 27-member House of Chiefs is an advisory body. Under the constitution drawn up in 1972, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) was Zambia’s sole legal political organization, and its central committee outranked the cabinet. In 1990 the constitution was amended to allow opposition parties, and in 1991 the legislature enacted a new constitution providing for a multiparty system and limiting presidential powers. An opposition group, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, won the 1991 general election, and Frederick Chiluba became president. Chiluba was reelected in 1996.


The judicial system includes a supreme court, a high court, and lower courts on the British model. African customary law is applied in special courts.


In the early 1990s the armed forces of Zambia consisted of an army of about 20,000 and an air force of 1600. Military service is voluntary.


Southward-migrating Bantu invaded the area that is now Zambia over a period of several centuries. The forerunners of the Sotho and Nguni groups were in Zambia before AD 1000. These early agricultural settlers and migrants developed mining and metalworking techniques. A new group, the Shona Bantu, arrived in the 12th century. Later, the Karanga clan of the Shona established the great empire of the Mwene Mutapa, which included southern Zambia. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Lunda and Lozi from the Congo (now the DRC) populated the northern plains and upper Zambezi River area. In the 19th century, the Kololo, fleeing the wars in South Africa, moved northward and established brief control over much of central and northern Zambia before the Lozi once again asserted their dominance. Eastern Zambia was settled by Bantu peoples related to those in Malawi. Despite their differences, these various Bantu groups shared certain common characteristics. They were primarily agriculturists, but most of them also kept cattle. They were tribally oriented, and their states usually were small, except when a dominant king, such as the ruler of the Karanga, Kololo, or Lozi, imposed his will on neighboring tribes. Consequently, when the British moved into Zambia-or Barotseland, as they called it-in the latter part of the 19th century, no powerful kingdoms were there to resist them.

British Rule

At the time of British penetration in the area, the strongest state in Zambia was that of the Lozi under Chief Lewanika, who openly solicited British protection. A treaty establishing British protection was signed between the Lozi overlord and a representative of the British South Africa Company in 1889. Eastern Zambia was added to Britain’s empire by Sir Harry Johnston during his conquest of Nyasaland (now Malawi). A regular British resident, titled agent in charge, was sent to Lewanika in 1897. Three years later the British government directly assumed jurisdiction over the entire area. British government in Zambia (then called Northern Rhodesia) was the same as in its other African territories, consisting of a small central executive authority made up of appointed Europeans headed by a governor; the system of indirect rule allowed great freedom to local rulers. In the late 1920s a major development occurred: the discovery of copper in the north. This led to the extension of the railway and the building of the first smelting plants in the so-called copper belt. By the beginning of World War II in 1939, Zambia had become a major producer of copper, and the extreme urbanization of the northwest was under way. The copper industry brought an influx of European technicians and administrators to Zambia, and although they never gained the political power of European settlers in Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), they became a dominant force in Zambian life. In 1953, under pressure from the white minority in Southern Rhodesia, the British government forced the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, comprising the territories of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland (now Malawi). It was dominated by the white population of the territories, and the central government headed by Lord Malvern and Sir Roy Welensky was a reflection of Southern Rhodesian politics. The federation was condemned from its inception by every African politician in the state. The path toward independence was more difficult for Zambia than for most other British African territories because the federation had to be broken first. This was accomplished by Malawi in conjunction with pressure applied by Zambian nationalists, led by Kenneth Kaunda.


The federation was dissolved at the end of 1963. Nyasaland became independent as Malawi in July 1964, and Northern Rhodesia as Zambia in October 1964. Southern Rhodesia changed its name to Rhodesia. Kaunda’s party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), won the first and all subsequent elections until the early 1990s. In 1972 Zambia became a one-party state, but its leadership remained moderate and pro-Western. Private land was nationalized in 1975 as part of an unsuccessful agricultural improvement program. The completion of the rail link to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1976, freed Zambia from its dependence on the Rhodesian- and South African-controlled railway for the transport of its copper. President Kaunda opposed the white-dominated regime in Rhodesia, and his assistance to guerrilla insurgents proved crucial to the establishment of a black majority government there in 1980. Although Kaunda was reelected to a sixth presidential term in 1988, popular discontent with Zambia’s stagnant economy and his autocratic rule continued to grow. In 1990 food riots and an abortive coup shook the government, and the aging leader agreed to allow multiparty voting. The opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy won the 1991 general election, and its presidential candidate, Frederick Chiluba, defeated Kaunda by a wide margin. In May 1996 Chiluba’s government passed a controversial amendment to the constitution that required presidential candidates to be from families established in Zambia for at least two generations. The amendment also prevented presidents from serving more than two terms. Kaunda, whose parents were immigrants from Malawi, was therefore disqualified on both accounts. In response, the UNIP, under Kaunda’s leadership, boycotted the November 1996 elections. Chiluba was elected to a second term.

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